Select Committee on Science and Technology Seventh Report


Forensic science is a vital instrument for the detection of crime and the administration of justice. The Forensic Science Service (FSS) plays a critical role in the delivery of forensic services to the criminal justice system and has established itself as a world leader in forensic science. In this inquiry we sought to investigate the likely implications of the Government's plan to develop the FSS as a Government owned company (GovCo) and possibly a public-private partnership (PPP). This Report welcomes the fact that, during the course of this inquiry, the Home Office stated its intention to fully test the GovCo model for the FSS, rather than automatically progressing to a PPP. However, we regret the confusing way in which the Home Office announced this decision: the mixed messages it sent out have only added to the uncertainty over the future of the FSS. The staff of the FSS have contributed enormously to building the reputation of the organisation and are essential to its future success. We urge the Home Office and senior management at the FSS to take positive steps to address the concerns of staff and rebuild confidence within the organisation. The lack of adequate independent oversight of the process of developing the FSS into a GovCo and possibly a PPP is unsatisfactory and we call for the Government to improve the transparency of this process.

In addition, we identify a need for the Government to implement measures to ensure that the criminal justice system has uninterrupted access to the full range of forensic services of the required quality standards and at affordable prices. We recommend that a Forensic Science Advisory Council be established to act as a regulator of the forensic services market, and to provide a much needed overview of the process by which forensic science is used in the criminal justice system. In light of the changing status of the FSS, the Council could also provide a source of independent impartial advice on forensic science to the Government, police and others. We further criticise the fact that the Home Office has failed to establish an independent body to oversee the work of the National DNA Database, or to make adequate provision for ethical and lay input. We additionally note the need for better management of the technology transfer process to facilitate exploitation of academic research with potential for application to crime prevention and detection technologies.

Although we accept that flaws in expert evidence are unlikely to have led, in isolation, to a significant number of miscarriages of justice, it is impossible to determine the number of cases which have been adversely affected by the conduct of an expert, or the handling of expert evidence in court. We emphasise that where miscarriages of justice have arisen in association with problems in expert evidence, this reflects a systems failure. We recommend various measures to improve the handling of expert evidence in court, including better provision of training for expert witnesses, lawyers and judges. We also recommend the establishment of a Science and the Law Forum and a Scientific Review Committee within the Criminal Cases Review Commission, to promote communication between the scientific and legal professions and to provide for ongoing scientific scrutiny of expert evidence.

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